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Thursday, September 24, 2020

Tension simmers in Punjab Congress, both sides look to high command

The turmoil in the Punjab Congress comes at a time when a new political formation is taking shape in the state.

Written by Manoj C G , Kanchan Vasdev | Chandigarh, New Delhi | Updated: August 13, 2020 5:45:44 am
Coronavirus cases, Night curfew, Chandigarh news, Punjab news, Indian express newsPunjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh. (File)

More than 10 days after senior Congress leaders Partap Singh Bajwa and Shamsher Singh Dullo raised a banner of revolt against Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, there has been no intervention from the central leadership, surprising many in the party. They argued that simmering tension in another Congress-ruled state, close on the heels of crises in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, is bad optics and could be fatal for the party in Punjab.

The central leadership’s reluctance to intervene on time to broker peace between the Kamal Nath-Digvijaya Singh duo and Jyotiraditya Scindia in Madhya Pradesh had resulted in the young leader joining the BJP and the Congress losing its government. Even in Rajasthan, the high command brokered peace a month after Sachin Pilot rebelled. In Punjab, both sides are attacking each other viciously.

The turmoil in the Punjab Congress comes at a time when a new political formation is taking shape in the state. The Congress suspects a BJP hand behind SAD leader Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa’s attempt to form a new Akali Dal. Against this backdrop, the Amarinder camp alleges that Bajwa’s rebellion is part of his plans to leave the Congress, a charge strongly denied by the latter.

AICC general secretary in-charge of Punjab, Asha Kumari, had visited Punjab last week to take stock of the situation after Bajwa and Dullo, both Rajya Sabha MPs, met Governor V P Singh Badnore and demanded a probe by the CBI or ED into the spurious liquor tragedy. It is not clear whether she has given a report to the Congress president.

State Congress president Sunil Jakhar, who had demanded the expulsion of Bajwa and Dullo, saying they had crossed the ‘lakshman rekha’, told The Indian Express that he is awaiting directions from the high command. Jakhar said he has sent a detailed report to party chief Sonia Gandhi seeking disciplinary action against the duo. Sonia is yet to refer the matter to the disciplinary committee or summon the leaders to Delhi to broker peace.

Bajwa, on the other hand, told The Indian Express that if the party does not replace Amarinder as CM, the Congress in Punjab will meet the same fate as the Congress in West Bengal under Siddhartha Shankar Ray.

Ray was CM of Bengal between 1972 and 1977. The Congress lost the Assembly elections in 1977 and has not returned to power since then.

“The Titanic sank as its captain was partying and could not see the iceberg and (the ship) collided with it. If the Congress continues with these two captains (Amarinder and Jakhar), they both will sink the party’s ship in Punjab. If a decision is not taken, the Punjab Congress will go the Titanic way,” Bajwa told The Indian Express.

Saying that nobody was with Amarinder except Jakhar, who was his “caged parrot”, Bajwa said, “Is it not clear? Nobody has come out in Amarinder’s support since Dullo and I raised issues confronting Punjab.”

He said that Amarinder’s popularity is the same as that of the Badals at the fag end of the term of the previous SAD government. Bajwa asserted he was not contemplating leaving the Congress and has faith in the high command. He also demanded that the party’s MLAs be called to Delhi to express their views in private.

“Sonia and Rahul Gandhi should meet each MLA alone. There should be no third person in the room, and they seek the views of the MLAs on five-six questions – have the promises to the people been implemented, is the administration clean, is the party in any way associated with the government, has the CM outsourced governance to a couple of bureaucrats and do they think the Congress can come back to power under Amarinder… majority of the MLAs will agree with what we say. If not, expel us from the party, but if yes, Amarinder should be shown the door,” Bajwa said.

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